2e Tuesday: Stranger in a Strange Land.

Being a 2e kid in the world is like living in a place where you don’t speak the language. I know, because I was a 2e kid and I’ve lived in a place where I didn’t speak the language!

Once upon a time, I lived in Hungary. Hubby and I were there with Naturalist and Golfer (4 and 1 at the time) so that Hubby could do a Student Exchange through his Graduate program at the then called “Karl Marx University of Economics”.

Neither of us spoke Hungarian, and considering it took me 3 weeks to be able to say Hungarian…”Magyarorszag”…it was doubtful I ever would. I was banking on the fact that everyone would speak English. A short 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I learned that English wasn’t a prerequisite for most of the Hungarians I met once we got over there. I could generalize that if the person was in their 20’s, they knew a decent amount of English–enough to chat. In their 30’s, the English knowlege went way down, and anything over that meant the person spoke Russian, Hungarian, and German, but no English.

This was also pre-EU admittance, and so the street and metro signs were never sub-labeled in English. Everything in the grocery stores was labeled in Hungarian, with a translation into Romanian, Russian, German, Italian, and Czech…no English. I managed to find an IKEA on the outskirts of Budapest, and was faced with this: I don’t know what any of this means!

My fallback plan of relying on my miniscule French knowlege to help decode Hungarian words also fell flat, because: “Hungarian is an Uralic language (more specifically a Ugric language) unrelated (or only very distantly related) to most other languages in Europe.” In France, Police is “Police”. German: “Polizei” Italian: “Polizia” Hungarian: “Rendorseg”. One of those things doesn’t belong!

The first week was really hard. I couldn’t communicate with anyone and they couldn’t communicate with me. I was always lost, I was afraid to go out in case a situation happened that I didn’t know how to handle, it seemed like I was always making people mad at me but I didn’t know why, and I generally felt very isolated, insignificant, and afraid.

Then, I learned how to order ice cream from the street vendors along the main pedestrian street in the heart of Budapest:

Vaci Utca (Vaci Street)

I then started learning how to order food in restaurants, do a decent job holding my own in a grocery store, and saying “Please” (Szeretnék) and “Thank You” (Köszönöm). If people were going to be angry at me, at least I knew it wasn’t because I wasn’t polite! I even learned ‘Excuse Me’ (Bocsánat!) to cover all my bases.

I learned to ask ‘How much is that one?’ (Mennyibe kerül? Ot von!) and could do quite a bit by just pointing and smiling. But my favorite things to say were, “Nem értem” and “Nem tudom” (I don’t understand, and I don’t know). I truly was a stranger in a strange land, and those phrases were my free passes out of situations that were over my head.

I often watch Naturalist and Golfer interact in the world and it is apparent to me that English is their second language. It’s hard to explain what I mean if you don’t have a kid like this. I’m sure there are proper ‘diagnosis’ for it…slower processing speed, shorter memory span…whatever. They are bright kids, but I can tell by their longer reaction time to different stimuli, that they are having to translate the world around them into their own ‘language’. This translation often leaves them confused, vulnerable, upset, and saying “I don’t KNOW!” or “I don’t GET IT!” over and over again. Frustrating as a parent, because we see their gifts and talents. We KNOW what their capabilities are and can’t figure out why they aren’t matching up with that.

I remember, as a kid, my Dad used to get so frustrated with me for saying, “What?” after everything. He’d ask me to do something while looking me right in the eye, I’d pause and say…”What?” He’d say, “What do you mean, What? You were looking right at me! You heard everything I said!” My mom decided it had become a nasty habit or sheer laziness, because I said “What?” to her a ton, too. I said it to just about everyone. Teachers, friends, family. They all knew I wasn’t stupid, but I sure acted like it….like I didn’t understand what they were saying to my face. I was confused in school, confused at home, generally kind of nonplussed everywhere I went. My knickname in 6th grade was ‘Cadet’, as in, “Space Cadet”:

Me, at 11.

As I look back, you know what I was doing? Translating. I’ve done such a good job, that now I’m totally fluent–enough that I’ve forgotten what my native ‘language’ was. It took me many years after most of my peers to learn how to tell time on a clock, or remember my birthday, or get the months in chronological order. The things that came naturally to most other people took me a little longer due to the extra layer of translating I had to do.

I think it’s because of this experience that the time in Hungary wasn’t so bad. I’d already lived through being an exchange student in a foreign land (as such) before, I knew how to deal with the feelings and challenges. I managed alright once before, I could do it again.

I try to go easy on my kids when they keep asking, ‘What?’ or saying ‘I don’t know!’ or not getting something that I think they should. I cut them some slack for ‘translation’ purposes. I know how hard everything was for me in Hungary, having to do the same thing. Their primary language is something….creativity, or color, or melody, or pictures, or something. To translate those things into words can be a tricky thing!

If you think maybe your kid’s primary language isn’t English, either, come join up at the “Out of the Box Thinkers” group!

Another great 2e Tuesday blog: Jen over at Never a Dull Moment!

Math Monday:: Creative Computation

I know, I’ve been all about number patterns lately. Naturalist and I are drawn to finding the patterns, but Golfer prefers to do good ole’ fashioned number crunching. The more computations he has to do, the better. My goal was to find a way to make it so that we could join in with Golfer and still have fun doing it.

I personally feel a bit stifled when i look at all the math problems on worksheets, knowing that there is only ONE answer and I’ll probably get it wrong. Ditto Naturalist.

However, in current math theory, there is a push to help kids see that numbers can and ought to be played with. They’re encouraged to find their own solutions and come up with their own strategies to answers. Not having BEEN taught that way, I had no idea how to go about doing this.

BUT!

I checked into lots of different math skills books, workbooks, curriculum, etc. and one has stuck with us: Number Jugglers: Math Game Book & Math Game Cards

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It is a spiral bound book that comes with its own deck of special cards, and all the activities inside (32 in all) use them. In the preface, the book states:

“Math can be a lot of fun. In fact, it can be downright exciting. Number Juggler math games are designed to let players start where they feel comfortable. Because the games can adapt to all ages and all ability levels, the same game can be fun for a kindergartner, for a sixth grader, and even for a college student. The math cards do not come with operation signs–the plus, minus, multiplication, or division signs that tell us what to do. When students see an operations sign, their brains seize on it…they see a plus sign and see addition. They see a minus sign and see subtraction. This limits their freedom to invent. In these games, we don’t want to restrict your child’s math creativity in any way. Looking at the numbers, children make whatever connections and relationships they can from their own store of math knowlege. This encourages players to make more and more complicated computations as they go along.”

What makes this book different from anything else I’ve seen is that instead of giving an operation to solve (5+5=? or 23-8=?) for the most part you have a target number (10, or 15) and you use 5 or 10 cards in any combination to get to that number. This really broadens the scope of math into a very creative, experimental and dynamic process. You’re not hemmed in to only ONE answer, or ONE way to do things…it’s up to you to solve it in whatever way you can or want to!

One of the first and most basic games to start with is the number ladder:

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We’ve been using this book for 2 years now, and this hasn’t gotten old yet. The object is to make math sentences for every rung of a number ladder from 0 to 9. You are dealt 10 cards, and can use each card only once on any given rung, but you can use it again for the next rung. All operations can be used at your own discretion. At first, Golfer was the only one comfortable with using multiplication and division. Very quickly, Naturalist and I learned that you can get to a lot more numbers by using more operations than just adding and subtracting, so we started branching out, too. Golfer loves doing ‘acrobat math’, so will put together a string of numbers in complicated orders of operations…something like, 2 (2+2) + (8-5) -2 for the 9th rung. I was able to introduce the concept of parenthesis in math and the proper order of operations to him in the same game where Naturalist was doing only the most basic addition. But she’s a quick learner and was quick to catch on to the more varied possibilities on mathmatical answers.

By increasing or decreasing the number of cards dealt to each person, the difficulty can be increased or decreased. The same time we are playing it, Sassy takes her cards and puts markers on the rungs for whatever numbers she’s dealt. Then she tells me what numbers she’s missing and quickly looks through the deck to find them. I love that a pre-K girl, a 4th grade boy, and a 6th grade girl (and a mom!) can all play the same game with varied abilities, and each of us finds it fun!

This also reinforces basic math ‘rules’ in fun ways, like the balancing game.

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In this one, we take our 10 cards and try to make a number sentence where both sides of the equals sign add up to each other, like this simple example (Most of these games can be played with playing cards, but I like their deck because there are the numbered dots on them, so kids can have them to count on if their number sense is still developing.):

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9+6=10+5. Basic pre-algebra concept that even Golfer is picking up on. Of course, he loves to do his acrobat math and tries to use as many of his 10 cards as he can just for the sheer joy of using numbers. Naturalist enjoys using lots of cards just to be creative…which means she’s more open to learning how to do different operations so she has more options with her numbers. I’m trying to learn how to do math in a fluid, less stressful way. We’re all having fun!

As you can tell, I highly recommend this book. It’s been in our rotation for a couple years now, and as our math skills have developed we’ve been able to play the same games but with more sophistication. It truly stretches from K through at least Middle School ages, and adapts as we do.

A lesson the book taught me about math, especially teaching creative and divergent thinkers, is to open numbers up. Don’t give a problem where only one answer is right….give the answer with an unlimited number of possible questions that would fit it. Often during the day I’ll just shout out a number….”32!!!!” and the kids shout back whatever they come up with for an “answer”… “4 times 4 times 2!” or “64 divided by 2!” or “12 plus 12 times 2 minus 16!” With Naturalist I’ve noticed that she has less anxiety this way, because she’s not as afraid to get it ‘wrong’. When there are so many right answers, she focuses on finding a creative answer. If there is only one answer to give (like on a traditional worksheet) then it’s less creative and way less fun.

Try incorporating this open ended concept into your own math and see how much fun it can be!

Spring is here!

You know how I know this? Because we just had a blizzard role through here and drop about 1 1/2 feet of snow on us. Every year, Spring is christened this way. In fact, March is typically the snowiest month for us. Winter waits for all the buds on the trees to start blooming and the tulips to start emerging, and then WHAM! she covers it all with her cold blanket.

I don’t mind it so much this year–we’ve been pretty dry and the mountains can use the extra water. It’s nice to have a chance to put on the snow boots, make some snow forts, and bid winter adieu one last time!

Spring sights.

1) the view out my window when the whiteout began.
2) the chair that 2 days earlier had been used to sit out in 70 weather.
3) Frito trying to make her way through the snow.
4) the sandbox…or, should I say snowbox.
5) our Tball stand, about 2 feet of it buried under the white stuff.

No worries…it should be in the 50’s today again. Melt, snow, melt!

Highlight Reel ’08

I’m sitting in the middle of a developing blizzard, so had some time to finish up a project I’ve been working on since late ’08. Yay! I’m learning how to work with imovie on my Mac, and so far, so…not bad!

For your viewing pleasure, I’ve compiled a movie of the homeschooling highlights we had last year. This is approximately what runs through my mind when people say things like, “I don’t know how you do homeschool!”, or, “I could never have the patience to do that!” If they only knew how good it can be….

Places shown:
Devils Tower, Wy.
Mt. Rushmore, SD
Durango, Co.
Ft. Laramie, Wy.
the library
the zoo
Rocky Mountain National Park, Co.
Four Corners, Az., NM., UT., Co.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Co.
Arches National Park, Ut.
Mesa Verde National Park, Co.
and…our backyard.

Enjoy! And, keep safe and warm if you’re in the middle of this Spring Blizzard!

Curious.

curious.

I bet you have kids that sit on chairs to eat (not under the table) and call this a plum (not a “butt fruit”).

I, obviously, don’t.

Civilizing my kids aint goin’ too good.

2e Tuesday: The Care and Keeping of a Twice Exceptional Kid.

You’ve heard me say it before…there are some kids who fly outside the sphere of ‘normal, average, look them up in a child development book’. My kids, for example. I finally threw all my child rearing books away, because they just didn’t fit my experience or my kids out of the box natures. Actually, I did keep one, Raising Your Spirited Child Rev Ed: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic. That title alone made me love it. Back then, they didn’t have Raising Your Spirited Child Workbook, to my parenting detriment, but sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got.

Ironically, parents of 2e kids (and 2e kids themselves) really need a lot of information and input into what the best ways are to help them overcome obstacles and really attain happiness.

I’m going to a dark place for a paragraph, to highlight the necessity of understanding and support for 2e kids. I don’t mean it in the popular “touchy feely, yay for self esteem, let me tell you how great you are” way, but in a meaningful, insightful, supportive, anchoring way. A way that will establish one touchpoint in their life so that when the going gets hard, they know they are loved and valued. And the going gets way hard for these kids at times. Current research indicates that gifted kids are at a higher risk (here’s the dark places) for drug abuse, dropping out of high school, teen pregnancy, and suicide. Some traits that make them more prone to these risks are:

(a) perfectionism, (b) supersensitivy, (c) social isolation, and (d) sensory overexcitability (Delisle, 1986; Dixon & Scheckel, 1996; Fleith, 1998; Hayes & Sloat, 1989). Driven by a self-oriented or socially prescribed perfectionism, the individual establishes high and rigid standards. To do the best is no longer enough and the individual feels frustrated no matter how well he/she performs (Lajoie & Shore, 1981). Excessive concern about errors, in addition to high parental and societal expectations, can result in depression and absence of self-worth.

Supersensitivity may be associated with gifted students’ heightened awareness about world problems and their feelings of frustration and powerlessness about making changes that can affect the world. Feelings of being abnormal or experiencing rejection from peers can lead the talented adolescent to experience severe identity problems. Finally, gifted adolescents who present traits of sensory overexcitability such as high energy levels, emotional intensity, unusual capacity to care, and insatiable love of learning may not find a receptive environment. The lack of support from family, peers, and teachers may also contribute to self-concept problems (Lovecky, 1993). When one or more of these issues occur, potential problems emerge. Gifted adolescents’ inability to deal with complex and intense feelings may be a source of vulnerability that can contribute to suicidal thoughts.

And guess what? These risks are also higher in the LD population (adding in a higher risk of incarceration). So when you put the two traits (gifted with LD) into one child, the potential is there for a difficult adolescence (even preadolescence) that leads down tragic roads.

I try to shy away from overly dramatic scare tactics, but in this instance I could already see Naturalist shutting down by 3rd grade. She told me, after I took her out to homeschool, that in 4th grade she would have found a way out of the school building and run away. A truant 4th grader doesn’t bode well for any future academics, eh? I listened to a kid even younger than she was tell his mom how much he hated himself and wanted to die rather than go back to school anymore. Reading the stories of the authors of Learning Outside The Lines : Two Ivy League Students With Learning Disabilities And Adhd Give You The Tools For Academic Success and Educational Revolution is also an eye opening experience as to how traumatic being 2e is without any anchoring support network in place.

After 4 years of collaboration with my kids while we homeschool, I have developed a few Must Do things on my list of the Care and Keeping of a 2e Kid. (Drumroll please!)

Allow them to find an interest and help them develop it.
And I don’t mean, only allow a highbrow interest like playing the violin for the Performing Arts Center (although that’s cool, too). I mean, ANY interest. Too often these kids tune out of life in general because it’s so frustrating/tedious/challenging/annoying/boring/painful. I know Naturalist had by the tender age of 9. So what I’m saying is, if they perk up when a video game in mentioned, then encourage that. Play along with them. Help them see that there are things in life that are interesting/fun/worthwhile. Don’t pick an interest for them…they get that all day long in school to ill effect. I mean, watch them and see what they are interested in. Chances are they may not even know, so you’ll have to pay attention! And no matter if you find it worthwhile or not, do them a favor and encourage it. Chances are that if they are passionate about it, they will do whatever it takes to excel…and that feeling of being confident and capable with a skill, whether as a violin prodigy or a video game whiz, is worth it’s weight in gold.

We love Devils Tower

Hello, confidence!

Find mentors.
The best thing I ever did for Naturalist was find a woman, 2e herself, who was also a reading specialist. At a time when Naturalist hated books and reading, Miriam Darnell was able to reach out, help her not feel so alone, and offer suggestions on how to do things her own way instead of telling her how she was ‘supposed’ to do things. Within 6 months, Naturalist was reading at least 4 grade levels higher than when she started. It was a remarkable transformation, and highlighted the importance of finding the right kind of people for my kids to relate to and emulate. I am constantly keeping my eyes and ears open for interesting people who share my kids interests or have a passion for something that my kids may struggle with. Then, I have those people over for dinner and/or set them up as tutors. This more personal connection goes a long way towards inspiring my kids, rather than the dull, bland, boring and frustrating remediation that is often offered to help a 2e kid ‘catch up’.

Cleaning a cannon.

Mentors in the art of 1800 warfare.

Trust your child.
This is a hard one, especially in this society of “adults know best”, and especially if they are in school and you can compare their performances with other kids. I remember the sinking feeling I had whenever I’d walk into the Kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade room. All the kids would have their work on the walls…papers with tidy printing and careful drawings. And then I’d see Naturalist’s papers…scrawled, illegible scribbles with what appeared to be poorly thought out illustrations that were abandoned before completion. But the truth is, no one has more capability than these Out of the Box thinkers. It may take them a while to find their own path, but once they do…watch out. Place your trust in your child and stop worrying about if they’ll ever spell correctly/perform well on tests/go to college/sleep a full night/get good grades. Rather than stressing over how to get them to perform to someone else’s ideas of a standardized course (*ahem* NCLB *ahem*), support them in finding their own path through life. They will shine like no other!

even more deeeep thoughts.

Sign at the Olympic Training Center.

Encourage meaningful friendships with other kids

OK, so, I used to leverage good behavior with having friends over. Which often meant that no friends could come over, because OOTBT tend to be….stubborn. Willful. Prone to tantrums. Emotional. Contrary. But you know what? You can either let them have their friendships now, for free, or pay for their counseling later. Finding good friends is often difficult for OOTBT. Naturalist told me that in 3rd grade, everyone laughed at her, even her friends. She said, “I knew it was just a matter of time before my best friends agreed that I was stupid and laughed at me, too.” [insert mom tears here] Friendships are developed through mutual interests and experiences. It was hard for Naturalist, with her focus on the animal world, to connect with any other girls who were running around teasing boys and being 9. I can’t tell you how many friends came over wanting to talk about other classmates while all Naturalist wanted to do was talk about snails and go clean up a nearby stream. If you notice your kid doesn’t have many (or any) friends, work to find some. Join after school programs, sign them up for extracurricular classes/sports, host a game night with similar kids, or whatever you can to be a matchmaker. It’s not unlike finding a good mentor. Friendships are another teather to keep OOTBT feeling connected and not alone. I’ll take away dessert, I’ll take away games and computer time, but I never take away friendship time anymore. Not with so much at stake.

Get a Pet
I dragged my feet with this one, but now that we have Frito Bandito, I wish we would have gotten her sooner. Even Naturalist said to me one day, “I love having Frito around. I know she doesn’t care if I can’t do some things. She’ll never laugh at me. She just loves me. I think that’s why I love nature so much–I can be myself and feel good around it.” [insert more mom tears here]. There’s a successful program around here where they take service dogs into a library and welcome kids to come in with a book, sit beside the dogs, and read to them. Those kids also know that the dogs won’t judge them, or stop them when they make a mistake. It’s a rare thing to feel so unconditionally loved. The pet doesn’t have to be a big commitment like a dog or cat, even a goldfish in the room or some kind of toad hoping around in a cage. Some other living thing to connect to.

Hello, gals!

Worry less about academic stuff, more about finding situations where they thrive.
I read an interview with Michael Phelps mom, and she was talking about getting him through High School with the crazy swimming schedule he had. Basically, her attitude was, “My son is getting more education from living his life and experiencing all these different situations, so please just let him come here, do a basic amount of work, but get off his back about academic stuff. Make sure he can do the important things–the 3 R’s, for instance–and leave the rest up to him.” I think this applies equally well to an OOTBT. Their creative, gifted side will make sure they learn and know everything they need to. Their learning differences will ensure that they need to study things that are relevant and important to their lives. In a school full of negative associations, they need to find somewhere with positive feedback. Do they love science? Volunteer at a museum or Zoo. Animals? Volunteer at a shelter. Athletic? Join a runing club or sign them up for triathlons. Naturalist has climbed 3 14’ers with plans on climbing 14 total by the time she’s 14. School will often say that kids need to do certain things to develop patience, willpower, focus, and drive. Not my kids. My kids learned all of that in the ‘real world’, where how and what they did really mattered to them. When kids can accomplish things that matter to them, it instills a feeling and confidence more powerful than good grades (which oftentimes never come to OOTBT, even when they work doubly hard than everyone else).

Hiking Grays Peak
14,270 feet, on top of the world.

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Other resources:
Suicide Among Gifted Adolescents: How to Prevent It (the title is scary, but this article has fantastic ways that the school and parents can help support an at risk kid. So whether you think you know of someone who is at risk or not, it’s worth a look.)

Anything by John Holt (To work out the trust issues with OOTBT)

Some rather sobering statistics about kids with LD. Sad, but true. Although, I do take issues with their statement that once a kid is behind, they’ll always be behind. But other than that, it’s an eye opening read.

The Creative Mind Phenomenon A great example of advocating for the child.

Out of the Box Thinkers Group on Yahoo, where all the cool parents go to find out how to support and encourage their out of the box learner.

Math Monday: Dyscalculia! AKA, something you’ve never heard of.

If you’ve never seen or heard of the word ‘dyscalculia’, you’re not alone. Until 3 years ago, I didn’t even know what it was, and I have it! It’s one of those lesser known learning differences and has to do with math. Specifically:

The word dyscalculia comes from Greek and Latin which means: “counting badly”. The prefix “dys” comes from Greek and means “badly”. “Calculia” comes from the Latin “calculare”. which means “to count”. That word “calculare” again comes from “calculus”, which means “pebble” or one of the counters on an abacus.

No matter how many times I read that definition, I always laugh. The fact that I’ve always counted badly is underscored by a diagnosible LD that means counting badly. So yes, let there be no mistake, dyscalculia is a form of badly counting. I have it, Naturalist has it, and they estimate about 5% of the population has it. Schools will rarely use the term, but may call it ‘deficiency with numbers’ or something like that.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of symptoms, there are some more here and here

Just like no one “knew” about dyslexia back 20 years or so ago, I think this is one of the ‘unknown’ LD that can wreak havoc on the confidence and self esteem of the person who has it. It’s one of the reasons why I’m devoted to making math accesible and not scary…to myself, Naturalist, and you, gentle reader. 🙂 I want to highlight this particular label in case there is anyone out there like me, who dealt with it without knowing what “it” was–just feeling stupid, uncomfortable, and incompetent around using numbers and in other parts of daily life.

There was a recent article in NewScientist that is one of the best I’ve read that highlights dyscalculia, and is worth a look even if you (or someone you know) doesn’t have it. It is a fascinating read that delves into number theory and the different theories as to how it develops (or, fails to develop). Read it here.

Great videos made by people who live with dyscalculia (I think Naturalist and I should make one of our own!)

Dyscalculia: The Devil & His Reign of Mathematics Terror 🙂

My Disabilities and Me 1 : Dyscalculia
(My favorite, favorite video about living with dyscalculia, made even more charming with a Welsh accent)

And finally, a fantastic forum all about dyscalculia, with a wonderful discussion form that is a great place for support (both for kids with dyscalculia and their parents): dyscalculiaforum.com.